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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 443

Senator McGAURAN (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Conroy, the Minister representing the Treasurer. After confirming yesterday that the government will increase its borrowing capacity to $200 billion, will the minister guarantee that the government will not seek to increase this debt beyond $200 billion?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —It is becoming increasingly obvious that those opposite continue, day after day, to lack an understanding of the severity of the world global recession. All of the forecasts released recently, particularly those by the IMF, note specifically that, to borrow their parlance, the risks are on the downside. What that means is that no-one is yet trying to pretend that this is necessarily the bottom, and the economy could slide further.

So let us be clear: the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that we will do whatever it takes to protect jobs and families in this country, unlike those opposite, who are completely confused about what is going on. Let us be clear; just this morning Mr Turnbull went on the radio to say:

I still believe we will not go into a recession but I’m taking a very positive, you know, some would say optimistic, view.

Well, it was optimistic compared to what the shadow minister for education said this morning:

Well, we’re definitely going to be in a recession this year. That seems to be everyone’s assessment economically, and the IMF’s assessment, so I think we can now assume that we’ll definitely be in recession.

Is it any wonder that Mr Pyne and Senator Minchin are demonstrating some degree of economic literacy in the party room, but are overwhelmed by those— (Time expired)

Senator McGAURAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister rule out raising new taxes or increasing existing taxes to pay off Labor’s $200 billion debt?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —As we have repeatedly stated, we will do whatever it takes to protect Australian jobs and families. When you go home this weekend you will have to talk to those people in your electorates and those people where you live—in the shopping centres, at the coffee shops and in the workplaces—and you will have to say to them: ‘We’re sorry if you lose your job because of the global recession and the contraction in the Australian economy. We’re sorry about that, but we’ve got some short-term politics to play. We’re going to pretend we’re not in recession. We are going to pretend that there isn’t pressure on the downside in the Australian economy.’

Senator Minchin understands it. Mr Pyne understands it. Former Minister Bailey understands it. Former Minister Baldwin understands it, but the Leader of the Opposition and clearly an overwhelming majority— (Time expired)

Senator McGAURAN —Mr President, I have a second supplementary question. Given that it took the coalition government some 10 years to pay off Labor’s $96 billion debt, how long will it take to pay off Labor’s $200 billion debt?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —That is a repeat of a question that was asked yesterday, and it was answered yesterday. What we have said is that, as taxation receipts grow, when we go above trend growth, we will bank the receipts. We have made it completely clear. We will put in place a two per cent spending growth limit. We have a plan to move us back into surplus and to pay off the debt.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator CONROY —I have just explained it. I do not know how many times you need to have it explained to you. The Prime Minister has articulated it, the Treasurer has articulated it and I explained it yesterday. But I do not mind repeating the answers, because each day, as those opposite demonstrate their level of economic illiteracy, they are able to keep playing short-term politics—nothing but short-term politics. (Time expired)